Well, it’s three weeks on the road so far. Join us, Bajada Bill and Cactus Kate, on the next leg of the journey which took us, and our trusted companions Beatrix, the Toyota Highlander, and Marion the Canadian Trillium trailer, as we traveled from Aspen to Mesa Verde CO. All photos by Kate Poss, unless otherwise noted.
Currently we’re camped at Mesa Verde National Park, beneath the protecting, pyramidal shape of Knife Edge Mesa. From our perspective it looks like a perfect triangle.
After spending five days in the ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ in Telluride, we are glad to be camped in less intoxicating surroundings. Ecstasy of Gold is a song written by Ennio Marcone for the spaghetti western, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Music from the score exactly provides the emotional connection to the eye-popping color and drama of the San Juan Mountains around Telluride.
After leaving the high altitude landscape intoxication of Aspen, where its namesake trees colored the slopes with liquid gold, orange and purple, we drove through orchard country of Palisades. Stopping at Palisade Pie Shop, we bought a couple of frozen pies from a friendly woman wearing a sparkling cross on her neck.
Arriving at Ridgway State Park later that afternoon, where thanks to Bill’s careful research, we camped in site 99 in Elk Ridge Loop D. He ensured that we were not near the highway and not below the dam. This loop offered big country views of the Colorado Alps—the Cimarron and San Juan mountain ranges, and seeing them in the morning light brought tears to my eyes. Their magnificence humbled me. The campground hosts maintain meticulous restrooms and showers. Be aware that besides the camping fee, there is an additional $10 daily camp fee for staying in the state park.
We drove to the nearby town of Ridgway, where we ate a good breakfast at Provisions at the Barbershop. An interesting couple at the neighboring table caught our eye, and told us they had ridden their Harleys from Cortez to the southwest. As they drove away on their bikes, we caught a picture of the lady, with her little dog riding behind her.
We drove into Ouray—pronounced You-ray—and again goggled at the steep mountains rising above the town in colors of rose and cream stone, highlighted by peak aspen autumn leaves, and framed by rosey-orange oak shrubs. We had planned to swim in the town’s hot springs lap pool, but the place was packed. Sitting out in front of the town library, a hard mama from Payson AZ showed up for the wifi, and told us she and her man were camped nearby in the Amphitheater Campground, a National Forest Service unit. We headed there to escape the over tourism in town.
As we wound around the hairpin curves up the side of the mountain above Ouray, we pulled over to visit an outhouse. There stood a man wearing beautiful turquoise and silver on his watch, a bracelet and his belt buckle. His trusted motorcycle was parked nearby.
Robert Carl Lee—“I’m called Carl,”—, a grizzled biker with giant fuzzy silver sideburns, used to race bikes professionally and “broke ne’er every bone in my body,”—told us about “riding with your ass off the seat so that you don’t run out of tire on the road, and you sacrifice your body for the bike.” With a Texas drawl, he talked about how he follows the laws—he pronounced it la-ose—of physics, how he was a business owner—who some reviled—and was his own man. “I left behind some young friends and decided to stop here. I’m getting older and my body can’t take the hard road like it used it to.”
We picnicked up near site 21—where we will certainly camp when we pass this way again.
Encircled by mountains and picnicking at over 10,000 feet, we talked of how we pay attention to the tone of words that people use when talking—such as the Payson woman whose tone implied, “…do not fail to visit this place.”—and generally find good juju as a result.
Sitting there above Ouray, enjoying a simple picnic lunch, we recalled Bill’s Grandad and his wife Maree, whose influence on us from the age of 18 continues today. It felt as if they were sitting with us at that moment. They used to regale us with stories of their travels—Grandad researched and made historic slideshows that school children from the 1960s learned from—while we sat rapt, drinking in this inspiring couple’s love of life. We wish to honor them, by publishing our on the road stories in this blog. So, Grandad and Maree, wherever you are on the other side, our journeys are dedicated to your love for us, and the landscapes and the people you met along the way.
We took a strenuous hike along the Upper Cascade Trail, stopping at each turn in the trail’s shade to catch our breath in the high altitude. We noticed the weather was changing— the wind blew the leaves and whirled them up in the air against the blue sky and clouds. Venerable Ponderosa Pine trees, that resemble Sequoias in their towering heights, made a shooshing sound. On our return down the trail, we met three men from Pakistan who had moved to Brooklyn. They looked and said they were done in. When they turned to pass through a barricade warning against taking the hazardous trail below, we called to them, asking if they were really going to take that route. Apparently they wanted to get down the mountain as soon as possible. We wondered about their safety and did not see them again.
Back in Marion that afternoon, they sky turned black and predicted rain arrived at 4 PM for a moment.
Leaving our campground for our next destination Oct.1, we played Nanci Griffith, singing October Reasons. A line in the song, “I’m going to open up the window, let in October…” is the one we sing to honor October’s start each year.
Driving in low gear, towing Marion up a steep grade along CO62 to Telluride, we passed mountains lined with bare burned silver aspen skeletons, framed by rusty colored oak brush. At the San Miguel Pass, the aspens started showing their neon colors: orange and yellow and spring green. The San Juan range towered on our left. Ralph Lauren’s ranch with its zigzag split rail fence framed the mountain base in a long grazing pasture.
Turned southeast on CO145 into Telluride. We entered a box canyon of tall peaks covered in spruce and day-glow aspen zigzags in between. “It’s like heading into Rivendell,” Bill said.
And so began five days in an alternative universe of landscape beauty so intense, we couldn’t believe our eyes and senses. We were intoxicated daily by the sheer scale of what seemed like a movie version of a perfect place where elven kings and queens reigned. Do not fail to visit the Butcher & the Baker Cafe. Excellent, woman owned, locally-sourced bakery, food and spirits.
What isn’t a fantasy is the cost of housing in a tourist town. Many workers commute 50 miles to work here. While the average rental is $1,717 a month, available long-term rentals are scarce.The campground, at $35 a night, fit our budget, when lodging costs ranged from a low $188 to an average $496+ a night.
Through a lottery, Bill was able to secure a campsite at the town campground. Fred, the campground host, opened an iron bar gate to welcome us in, and assigned us to site 23, right across from the bathroom. One challenge of camping the way we do is that we do not have a bathroom in Marion. Folks have suggested porta-potties, but we just can’t go there. So, when nature calls in the night, I’m grateful not to have to walk far to the facilities. I enjoy looking up at the night sky and picking out the constellations. At this time of year, it’s the Big Dipper, Pleiades, Orion, and Cassiopeia that sparkle in the black ceiling of sky overhead. The bathroom at the Telluride Town Park Campground is new, with heated floors, self-flushing toilets and $1/90 second shower tokens.
We camped beneath peaks covered in spruce and neon aspen leaves. The campgrounds were paved in rough stone. Magpies patrolled the area, cleaning up any food scraps.
Walking through our campsite the night we arrived, we saw Bryan and Jessica, our neighbors from Difficult Campground outside Aspen, who camped across from us with their Airstream. They live in Sedona, after moving there from Bothell, and we enjoyed a visit with them.
Sunday night, October 1, while we had no electrical hookups at our campsite—we plugged in chargers we had bought—we were able to watch a streamed film, Jules, a top drawer acted story about growing old, losing memory and being redeemed by an alien nicknamed Jules, who transformed the seniors’ lives.
Thunder and lightning kept us awake through the night. Thunder blasts shook the trailer. Bill saw the lightning through his closed eyelids. We didn’t sleep much. The following morning was wet and dark, the campground muddy. A perfect day to sit in the Wilkinson Public Library in Telluride. Upstairs I found a live edge wood table with multiple plug-ins to recharge phone, laptop, iPad, and chargers. The beautiful library supplies free wifi, heat, and water. I was assigned two stories for the South Whidbey Record, our hometown biweekly, for a special emergency preparedness section it will run this month. I sat in the library that day and the next, writing stories about how well-connected our emergency services are, and the vital need for fire volunteers and sheriff’s deputies. I’m thinking of training to become an EMT when I return. Just have to get strong enough to do a chin up—that will take some work!
Tuesday morning we woke to snow on the ground, on the car, and in the mountains. The outside temperature was below freezing.That morning, I woke up with a running nose, sneezing, coughing, and watery eyes. A trip to the local pharmacy gave me drugs to stem the tide. I worked through a haze of cold remedies on Tuesday. No matter my state of health, I can always write a story.
Wednesday Oct. 4, we thought visiting the Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings in Ouray might improve my symptoms. I talked to folks who slept in tents and were heading to the laundry to dry their down bags. A hearty camper next door said he stayed warm in his tent unit built over his pickup. Even the magpies puffed up their white down feathers along their body to stay warm.
With me drugged to mask the symptom of severe colds, we left Telluride in 32° temperatures, goggling at the eye-popping colors surrounding us on the mountainside. We descended to Ouray, marveling at the red rock roadside geology. As we drove through the Technicolor landscape, Bill said,”I’m high on leaves, man!”
“Colorado Mountains, I can see your distant skies, bringing tears of joy to my eyes. It’s a good feeling to know,” sang members of Poco in its song, Good Feeling to Know. Ooh baby, it WAS a good feeling. Thank you, Poco!
Arriving at Wiesbaden Hot Springs in Ouray, we were glad to be off the main drag. An A-framed window in the hotel/spa looks out at a hot springs fed pool and mountains. Curtis, the inn’s manager, said Wiesbaden means meadow water in German. His faithful spirited companion is Pi, a Samoyan bear of a dog who loves having his ears and back scratched. The spa hosts natural vapor caves with hot spring water trickling in at 110°.
Sitting out at the pool, gazing at the San Juan mountains reflected in the spa’s glass, we visited with a young woman, her husband and her mom. The young couple live in nearby Paonia, a great orcharding area.
Heading downstairs, I was nervous at first about the vapor caves. My heart gets to beating too fast in really hot water. But here, it relaxed, as my skin grew moist in the sauna-like heat of the natural vapor caves, I meditated, I did my Somatic movements. My mind slowed to the present moment.
The Ute people once used and still perform ceremony at the vapor caves. For $25 a person, this is good medicine. Later, I enjoyed delicious Tom Kha coconut curry at Thai Chili on Ouray’s Main Street. The red curry was good medicine for my raw throat.
Arriving back to Telluride late that afternoon, we drove along Lost Dollar Road, which arrives at the Telluride Airport. Fresh from the vapor caves and feeling good, we felt we were gazing at the feet of the gods of the mountains, whose subjects honor them with beautiful color and soft flowing hills.
Lost Dollar Road branched off to CR 20 past the airport, and we stopped at a stand of green, yellow and orange aspens flittering in the breeze. We had been listening to Ennio Marcone’s score for the Good, the Bad and the Ugly, along the way, which perfectly fit the scene.
The scene at 3620 CR20, stopped us. We parked in front of a property tucked up in the yellow/orange aspen foothills, framed by mountain peaks.
Tibetan prayer flags fluttered along a wooden shed along the road.
The sun came out from behind a cloud and blessed us with an unforgettable experience of awe to be in this place. The home tucked into the hills looked like a Tibetan monastery. We felt humbled to take in the immensity of beauty of this country. We felt honored by the trees, the mountains, the sky and the birds. We experienced the Ecstasy of Gold, as a good feeling, not the desperado feeling of the outlaws seeking it in the spaghetti western.
Friday, Oct. 6 we left Telluride with 38° temperatures at 10:30 AM, we drove toward Mesa Verde National Park, where we would camp the next four nights.
An hour later at Lizard Head Pass along CO145, we stopped at the 10,220 feet lookout, With low blood sugar Bill got a double dose of Rocky Mountain High. After his bowl of cereal and a nectarine, we returned to Beatrix to continue to Mesa Verde. We heard a clunk, as if something fell from the roof. Making a U-turn on the highway we circled back to Lizard Pass. There Bill checked and found our mother-of-pearl handled knife was missing. He spent the next half hour walking up and down the highway, checking where we’d parked, no knife. He was disappointed to lose the good tool.
We arrived at our campsite at Mesa Verde that afternoon, camping in Apache Loop at Moorefield campground. After getting Marion settled in our site #381 beneath Knife Edge Peak and close to the flush toilet bathroom, Bill looked at Beatrix. There in her roof gutter lay the knife!
Our friend Gordy met us at camp. We chatted till dark, and Gordy returned to his Mancos home. We drove up the hill to the free showers. Hot and accommodating!
The next day Gordy met us at camp and drove us along the mesa ridge to the Cliff Palace overlook. We booked a ranger tour to see the 800-year-old sandstone home of Pueblo people, also known as the Anasazi. They lived in the cliff dwellings less than a hundred years and there is much speculation on where they went afterward. Rangers say they settled nearby, where water was more plentiful. Bill’s grandad once wrote an article speculating that the Anasazi ground had become poisoned by uranium and that’s the reason for the quick exit.
Ranger Terry Kann said to self-evaluate ourselves and be honest on our ability to do the physical work required of the descent to and ascent from Cliff Palace. The descent required 35 steel steps, plus 75-80 stone steps of various heights and shape. We would exit and ascend on vertical wooden ladders and 75 stone steps.
Medical emergencies require 15-20 minutes response time, he told us. There were a couple of emergency calls the past two weeks, with one guy who stopped breathing. He needed oxygen. Another visitor was rescued by ropes and slings, requiring 13 rangers and six hours of work.
The Cliff Palace contained 150 rooms, 25 of which were occupied, through evidence of human pottery and baskets. The other rooms were presumably used to store food and others were used for ceremony.
Sylvia Staboli, a French born ranger stood by one of the site’s kivas. “The harvest ceremony would be held now,” she told us. “They would invite neighbors and trade food, fiber, weaving, and pottery.”
That evening while Bill and Gordy hiked Knife Edge, I made mashed potatoes and heated up delicious smoked pulled pork Bill bought at Clark’s Market in Telluride. Bill drove up the hill for a shower.
We slept great Oct. 7. When we were having breakfast, this morning, Bill wondered where his turquoise bolo was. He bought it at an antique store in Truth or Consequences NM last year. It serves as a talisman, and he felt badly about not being able to find it.
We drove up to the camp store and learned the bolo had been left in the shower and returned by an honest person. Hooray!!! The bolo was returned.
I now am sitting at a rainbow-hued rough pine table on the sunny patio at Zuma Natural Foods in Mancos. Bill and Gordy are off gazing at aspens. I hope to complete this and get the story published before my MacBook battery runs out. I did, with a sliver of battery left.
Adios, pardners! Happy Trails, until we meet again.